Democracy Inaction

Mr. Gonz doesn't go to Washington

It is 7 p.m. on November 2, and the polls have just closed in Texas, but there is already calamity. CNN and NBC and the rest are busy telling us what a mess the presidential election is going to be. The poll numbers that scroll across the television screen at a frenetic pace add to the chaos rather than clearing up the confusion. Already John Kerry has "stolen" New Jersey (even though it was a "blue state" in recent presidential elections). Meanwhile, Pennsylvania, a key "battleground," is leaning in the senator's favor. This is the language used by politicians and journos alike--full of disquieting jargon.

"Settle in, folks," Tom Brokaw says with a distinctive, slurred speech pattern. "This could be a very long night."

I'm more nervous than I've been in a long while, and my stomach is threatening to jettison its contents. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance, but that really doesn't have anything to do with my increased anxiety. A victory for either Kerry or George Bush won't make me dance with joy or fly into a rage. For the second consecutive presidential election, I was among a small contingent of voters who saw little merit in either candidate. Once again, I cast a protest vote. (In 2000, I voted for my father. This year, I voted for Arizona Senator John McCain.)

Only Gonz would hold a pre-election rally outside his district.
Mark Graham
Only Gonz would hold a pre-election rally outside his district.
More than 6,000 Texans think Gonz should represent them in D.C. That's scary. Really, really scary.
Bottom photo by Merritt Martin
More than 6,000 Texans think Gonz should represent them in D.C. That's scary. Really, really scary.

In 2000, the effect of my disillusionment began and ended with bitching about the political process. Along with a group of 20-something, politically savvy friends, we talked about how, more often than not, we couldn't find one candidate to mesh with most of our ideas--a candidate who was both fiscally conservative and socially progressive, who would cut taxes but who wouldn't lock non-violent drug offenders away for life. That sort of thing. In the end, for us, there was always a compromise when casting our votes.

This time around, I was similarly embittered, though it manifested itself in a far different way. This time I decided to run for U.S. Congress in District 5. Apart from being president of my college fraternity and vice president of the university's student government, I've never held elective office. But, I figured, I won both of those elections, so maybe I was born to be a politician after all.

Naturally, it wasn't going to be that easy. I was pitted against a strong, conservative Republican incumbent, Jeb Hensarling, in a heavily conservative, Republican district. Plus, both Hensarling and Democratic challenger Bill Bernstein had the advantage of running as major-party candidates. I ran as a Libertarian, which means two things: First, I raised precious little money, which made campaigning that much harder. Second, people think Libertarians are insane, and voters have this odd predilection for supporting the mentally stable. Despite that, I decided to run because I thought it was important to have my issues heard.

Plus, there was the added incentive of getting a story out of it.

Since declaring my candidacy in January, it's been a long, hard race. At first, I was hoping to utilize my Z-list notoriety as a Dallas Observer columnist and catapult to victory. (If Laura Miller can be mayor, why couldn't I be a congressman?) Then, after finding out that Libertarians average just 2 percent of the vote nationally, I began shooting for a more realistic goal--somewhere in the ballpark of 2 percent to 5 percent. That's what I was hoping for, anyway, and that's why I'm so nervous now. I don't want to look like a bigger fool and get 1 percent of the vote or less.

The early returns are coming in, and they don't look so hot. reports that with 2 percent of the 281 precincts in District 5 reporting, I have 1,741 votes, or 1 percent of what's been tallied. They've already called the race in Hensarling's favor.

Brokaw was right; it's going to be a long night. How did I get myself into this?

In November 2000, I was a newly minted 23-year-old columnist for the Observer with only casual interest in politics. The economy was stable, and I had money to burn. We drank a lot back then. My pals were a crew of like-minded college grads in our early to mid-20s--educated, middle-class and disaffected. At happy hour, or sitting around at someone's apartment, we talked about politics. But it was always about what was wrong--about how the politicians were all fools cut from the same ratty cloth, unwilling to say anything new or real. We disdained their partisan hackery and longed for a day when we wouldn't settle for a candidate.

"I'd been exposed to stodgy politicians before, lifeless and soulless creatures who look at you in the same way a buzzard eyes fresh roadkill." That's what my buddy Joe Pappalardo, a founding father of our little cabal, wrote back then for the Observer ("The Party Party," December 21, 2000). And that's how we felt.

But it was more than that. We were tired of compromising on a candidate. We wondered why we fell between the cracks of the political parties, why we couldn't find someone who thought that being fiscally conservative, strong against terror and yet socially progressive was a good idea. We listened to various pols pander to "the youth vote" without actually assuming any of our positions. It was frustrating.

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